How yoga helped me overcome organizational stress

The stress of police work nearly forced me into early retirement, but my career was saved by the ancient practice of yoga


By Chris Davis

As a result of my struggle with organizational stress in 2013–2014, I submitted my early retirement paperwork (at a significant reduction in pay) and sent this e-mail to select members of the department:

All,

(Photo/Jane Henson)
(Photo/Jane Henson)

I am being somewhat selfish when I say that yesterday was one of the worst days in my life. I say that because I had no hope that things would get better and that I was being forced (in a roundabout way) to leave the department. After many tears, thoughts and prayers I now look at this time in my life as an opportunity to make “policing” better for the officers that are already in the profession and those that will enter into it in the future. I am ashamed to say that I was bitter, but through some guidance from above and from my wife, I am now very excited about what the future holds for me and my family.

I recently told a sergeant that to thrive in a new environment you have to be able to change. He responded, with, “When do you draw the line with changing who you are?” At the time, I did not have an answer. Now I do. You stop changing when you start to lose who you and what you believe in. It’s not good or bad, it just “is.”

My last day with the FPD will be 11/30/14.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all your words of encouragement, thoughts and prayers!

Ultimately, I withdrew my retirement paperwork and ended up being promoted to captain and then assistant chief of police 14 months later. What changed? How did I go from a deep sense of hopelessness to a sense of gratitude?

One word: Yoga.

Rising to the yoga challenge

A fellow police sergeant challenged me to a “yoga challenge,” which included attending as many yoga classes as possible in 30 days. We ended up attending 20 or so classes. In hindsight, yoga made the stress manageable and allowed me to live up to my full potential.

Based on my experience with stress, I urge other officers to do something that makes your stress manageable. Do not wait for a crisis. For me yoga was the answer. It provides me with the following and I know it can do the same for you:

  1. Yoga challenges me mentally, physically and spiritually. What other activity does that?
  2. Yoga is a subjective practice. No matter how hard I work, there will always be room for improvement – better focus, better pose form and better breath control. For those who have never practiced yoga, it is a lot like golf, in that you rarely have command of your long game, short game and putting all on the same day. That elusive perfect game is what brings you back day after day and week after week.
  3. Yoga gives me a sense of contentment. When I focus, it makes me appreciate every second, every minute and every day. Too often, we focus on the past and the future and fail to enjoy the present. Try focusing on every second as it passes, knowing that you will never get that second back again. How long did it take for your mind to wonder? That’s why they call it a practice!
  4. Yoga gives me a sense of peace. When was the last time you were truly at peace with where you are in life, with who you are, and/or with what you have accomplished? You cannot put a price on true peace!
  5. Yoga makes me more resilient. Unfortunately, stress will always be part of our lives, whether it be from work, relationships or finances. We cannot always control the stressors in our lives, but we can often control how we react to those stressors and yoga gives me to the tools to act in the most appropriate manner. (Although mental health issues could hinder someone from acting in an appropriate manner.)
  6. Yoga gives me superpowers! Well, not really, but it does make me feel like a have a secret weapon in my back pocket that few people have.
  7. Yoga improves my performance, mentally and physically. If I can stay focused and control my breath in the yoga studio, then ideally, I will be able to control my focus and breathing in a real-world situation.

Getting started on your yoga journey

Yoga provides everyone with a challenging and/or life-altering experience, regardless of your physical ability (strength, cardio and flexibility). If you put forth the effort (focus), on a regular basis, you will be rewarded in innumerable ways.

Here are some tips to get you started on your yoga journey:

  1. Attempt to find a yoga studio that specifically mentions welcoming first responders and/or military personnel.
  2. Try a hot yoga (90+ degrees) and a cold yoga class (70 – 80 degrees) to determine which class you prefer.
  3. Attend different styles of classes such as Yin, Slow Flow, Power Flow and Ashtanga to determine which style you prefer.
  4. Attend classes taught by different teachers, as each teacher will have his or her unique style.
  5. Give yourself time to settle in. Typically, it takes several classes to get the basic poses down and for you to feel comfortable enough to benefit from the mental aspect of yoga.
  6. FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING! Everything else will fall into place if you give it time.

About the author
Christopher Davis retired as the assistant police chief for the Fayetteville Police Department in North Carolina.

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